Oct. 15, 1996: Lakers rookie Kobe Bryant soars during a photography shoot at Will Rogers State Beach. Before ever taking a shot for the Lakers, Bryant was already a star, with acting gigs and product endorsements.
The Lakers brought Bryant to the NBA right out of high school. According to this story by Times staff writer Helene Elliott, Bryant already had the talent, work ethic and maturity to succeed in the NBA. Elliott reported:
Behind him, clouds brushed the tops of the Santa Monica Mountains and the sun gilded the ocean, but Kobe Bryant was oblivious to the stunning backdrop at Will Rogers State Beach.
For more than two hours Bryant, the high school sensation who has yet to play a game with the Lakers but already has an Adidas contract and a Screen Actors Guild card, concentrated on soaring skyward for layup after layup while a photographer snapped images for a poster.
Eyeing the rim, mentally counting the steps, he was poised for another attempt when a photo assistant stopped him. Bryant paused, listened, then looked away in embarrassment as the assistant knelt at Bryant’s feet and tied the budding star’s shoes.
His mother, Pam, laughed at the deference shown her 18-year-old son. “I hope he doesn’t wait for me to do that for him,” she said….
Kobe’s high school coach, Gregg Downer, described coaching him as a once-in-a-lifetime privilege.
“I know the high school market very well and I’ve watched it for close to 20 years, and to think there could be another player come into my hands and be this good, that’s an abstract concept,” Downer said. “He’s blessed with a lot of natural ability and great genes, but the work ethic is his and it’s very strong. Kobe has the skills and the maturity and everything you could want.”
These photos by former Los Angeles Times staff photographer Ken Hively accompanied the story quoted above. They ran on the Times Sports section front and on an inside jump page.
Hively says he was allowed to be a fly on the wall and get candids during the photo shoot.
“I always loved the head-on-the-ball shot,” Hively says. “This was a grab shot while Kobe was taking a break.”